Recently Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act (DASCA) of 2014 in Congress. The bill gives DEA new tools to identify and quickly respond when new designer anabolic steroids hit the market. But if you are a mainstream dietary supplement marketer or manufacturer, particularly if you are not in the sports nutrition space, you might be asking yourself, "Why should I care?"
Anabolic steroids and the dietary supplement marketplace are unfortunately all too intertwined. Looking back at the history of the industry, the powerful anabolic steroid androstendione was marketed as a dietary supplement until FDA, DEA and the legitimate supplement industry worked together and declared it a controlled substance in 2004. More recently, the anabolic steroids Superdrol and Prostanozol were passed off as dietary supplements until the DEA restricted their sale in 2011.
At least in those cases, consumers knew what they were getting because “andro" was listed on the label; even more disturbing is the presence of undisclosed anabolic steroids that are added to otherwise legitimate sports nutrition supplements in an effort to boost their effects. Since 2010, when FDA announced a crackdown on anabolic steroids in supplements, FDA has issued more than 80 warning letters, consumer advisories and product recalls for products in which it has found anabolic steroids. Just browse through the advertisements of any “muscle magazine" and you will see countless models who promote supplements, but have a little “juicing" to thank for their physiques. We have to acknowledge that less-than-scrupulous elements have invaded our industry—and are damaging the reputation of all dietary supplements in the process. And more needs to be done.
Hopefully, everyone already appreciates the dangers of anabolic steroid use, but just for the record, these substances can cause high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, liver disease or liver failure, higher levels of bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, shrinking of the testicles, diminished fertility, acne and enlarged breasts in men. Among teens, anabolic steroids can stop bone growth before it’s complete. And there’s a reason why they call it “’roid rage"—anabolic steroids cause irritability, uncontrolled high energy (mania), delusions, and excessive anger and violent behavior. Hardly the healthy image of wellness we want associated with supplements.
The problem is DEA, not FDA, has primary authority to declare a compound an anabolic steroid and restrict its distribution by placing it on the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Because the CSA is a criminal statute, due process requires the government give would-be criminals clear notice that their activities are illegal, which means describing substances with specificity on the CSA, so criminals know exactly what substances have been restricted. Up until now, that process meant DEA must demonstrate the actual anabolic effects of a chemical before listing it. Just imagine DEA giving rats or mice doses of each new substance, sending them to the miniature gym for three months and testing them for anabolic effects. Well, it’s not quite like that, but you get the picture: DEA was required to engage in lengthy physiological tests with each new substance. Because the steroid formulators are constantly modifying their molecules to stay one step ahead of the law, enforcement plays a perpetual game of “catch up" to identify and test these new products and place them on the CSA.
That’s where DASCA can help. First, this legislation will place close to 30 new anabolic steroids on the DEA Controlled Substance List. These are new substances that have appeared on the scene since the last time the CSA was amended. Then, going forward, it will change the criteria for placing additional anabolic steroids on the list, which will make it easier for DEA to identify and list new chemicals.
The bill provides that if a new substance closely resembles the chemical structure of another molecule that is already identified as an anabolic steroid on the CSA, and the marketers or manufacturers of that substance are marketing or promoting to suggest that it promotes muscle growth or another pharmacological effect similar to testosterone, then DEA may consider it an anabolic steroid and restrict it under the CSA. Basically, if the compound looks, acts and quacks like a duck (i.e., an anabolic steroid), then DEA can treat it like a duck—without waiting for those lab rats to come back from the gym in three months. The legislation permits DEA to temporarily restrict the substance while it proceeds with a permanent order. There’s an exemption for legitimate dietary ingredients composed solely from herbs or other botanicals that can be lawfully marketed as dietary supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).
DASCA will also allow DEA to respond faster to stop those criminals who create new anabolic substances closely resembling listed ones, but tweaked just enough that they are not identical to the ones listed. The misbranded steroids, illegally sold as dietary supplements, are not only dangerous for consumers, but also unfairly damage the reputation of responsible dietary supplement companies that provide consumers with legitimate, high-quality and beneficial supplements for sports nutrition and performance. They put consumers at risk, pose the same safety problems recognized anabolic steroids do and jeopardize the careers of athletes who could unknowingly test positive for these banned substances under their athletic associations’ rules of conduct. Cracking down on these compounds, and the people who make them, helps protect the entire legitimate industry.
Responsible dietary supplement industry stakeholders have consistently supported Congressional and government efforts to enact and enforce laws that help eliminate illegal products that masquerade as dietary supplements and allow for prosecution of the criminals who manufacture and sell them. The industry lobbied Congress to pass the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, and assisted FDA in 2010 with clandestine ingredients. Cleaning up the industry is in everyone’s best interest. So let’s all help DEA shoot down those sitting ducks.
Steve Mister is the president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade association for the dietary supplement industry.